I’m constantly trying to help large companies drive innovation by creating new and unexpected customer value. Large companies are terrible at this for the exact same reasons we all have problems changing our lives for the better.


Just like big companies, we tend to be trapped by our past successes. But as Marshall Goldsmith famously said, “what got you here will not get you there.” We keep doing what used to get us results even if they no longer do. It is hard to transform our internal mindsets and change old habits even when they are failing. It’s just plain hard to face reality when reality is not cooperating with our desires.


Because of the gravity of habit, we become slow to react to new circumstances and even slower to embrace change. Just as large companies fail to implement obvious improvements because of poor change-management, we personally fall into the same trap. Even if we want to change, we can’t seem to launch upward with enough thrust to get beyond the dirty air that surrounds us.


We accept the unacceptable. I often ask my clients “Is the current condition of your enterprise the goal you set out to achieve?” If it’s not, it’s time for change…often big change.  The same is true of our lives. If your current work and life is not what you desired for yourself 5 years ago it’s time for a change. No maybes.


When companies accept the unacceptable, it dulls their reactions, muffles the voice of their customers and puts their mission on mute. When companies are unable to re-energize their vision, sharpen their focus and get important stuff done, they settle into a new normal which exhausts their employees, struggle with chaotic work processes, and suffer under the continuous friction of unhappy customers.


Likewise, in our personal lives, when we accept the unacceptable it dulls our ambition for every dimension of our life…our work, our lifestyle, and relationships. We stop resisting what was once unacceptable. We stop listening to our inner voice of inspiration.  We rarely think about our personal purpose and higher mission. In fact, when these thoughts disturb us we are inclined to just turn to our cell phone and distract ourselves with trivia.


As a professor and consultant who has helped literally thousands of people reinvent their careers as adults, I can assure you there is a better way than accepting the unacceptable.


First, confront the truth that, on average, people who own their own businesses, including the millions of people who are sole proprietors of their one-person enterprise are 300% happier than people who view their work as an employee who takes orders.

This is not a surprise since research from experts like Edward Deci confirm that individual autonomy is one of the greatest sources of deep life satisfaction that human beings can enjoy.

This doesn’t mean you have to start your own business. Rather, it means you must look at your current job as your very own start-up. Your career is your business. After all, today all jobs are contingent. It doesn’t matter if you have a W-2 paycheck.  We are really all 1099s.


What a consultant does to be successful is to become an expert at something she loves to learn about and master. It doesn’t matter whether, or not, it is a popular field, it only matters that you become so good at what you do you are in the top 10% of the field. Today there is a resurgence in “analog” jobs, which are our jobs whose outcome is largely determined by experience and judgment rather than algorithms. The last jobs to be automated are the ones that require emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence enables you to increase your influence and magnify your impact. And when emotional intelligence is connected to expert knowledge you have a rare career that allows you to earn more money per unit of your effort.

So now that you’ve re-imagined your career through the perspective of a founder, the hot new start-up called ME, Inc., you are ready to implement the three simple things that successful start-ups have in common, which are: 

  1. Have a sharply defined Mission and a focused value proposition. Know how you create value in a way that inspires you. It’s intrinsic motivation that will make you pay the price to learn what you need to learn, practice what you need to improve and increase your impact. Sharpen your message so that you can tell your boss, your colleagues and/or your clients what you do that creates value for them. Dedicate yourself to be great at it and claim your greatness. Don’t apologize for being imperfect just demonstrate your willingness to fix what needs to be fixed when it needs to be fixed. Be confident…you have every right to be.
  2. Maintain a deep understanding of your customers. The most successful value creators meet the unexpressed and unseen needs and desires of the customers they serve. Who would have believed Starbucks would trigger a mass desire? Or that phones should fit in your pocket and play music, send written messages or give us access to all knowledge. Mind blowing innovation requires profound, practical empathy. And innovation is the lifeblood of your career. If your current client is your boss sell her that what you have to offer cures her pain or opens up a new gateway of opportunity.
  3. Thinking agility and an eagerness for constant adaptation is the engine for growth.

This is true for businesses that are trying to scale for growth and it is essential for individuals who desire to have a relevant satisfying career. Never be stubborn, staid or boring. Not in work or in life. Recent research says that the single greatest predictor of leadership success is curiosity.  And today we have so much to be curious about. There is a better way.  Always.  Our job is to find it.

What works for business success and career success also works for life success.

  1. Have a sharply defined personal mission which is… to live the life you most value and spend the time daily to recalibrate the direction of your life. Sure, not every day is a good day.  For some extended periods, our life is more about survival then thriving. But your core commitment should be to not accept the unacceptable as a permanent condition of your life. Also, invest time and effort in doing those things that make you happy and the friendships that bring you joy.
  2. Maintain a deep understanding of yourself and the people you love the most. Self-awareness is the vital key to self-realization, contentment and happiness. Meditation, exercise, being in nature and reading inspiring thoughts and challenging ideas will increase your emotional intelligence about yourself. Listening to your “sane” loved ones and healthy friends will increase your emotional intelligence with others. Emotional intelligence is essential for happiness.  It just is.
  1. Thinking agility and constant adaptation are the foundational tools for a well lived life. There is actually one thing you can count on.  The future will be different than what you expect it to be.  Your source of confidence is knowing that your ability to adjust, adapt and improvise is one of the highest of all human gifts. I believe we have that gift because we swim in a sea of uncertainty. That doesn’t mean that we need to detach from all our desires and dreams. Rather, it means that no matter what happens, you can rely on your higher self to guide you to your best possible life if you are willing to be surprised about what makes you truly happy.


The bottom line:

Whether you are running the company, building a career or leading your life there are three things that will make you successful.

  1. Decide what’s really important to you and focus on the few things that really matter.
  2. Develop positive empathy. Understand what other people value.
  3. Be adaptable, flexible and open-minded.

Exercise these foundational principles over the up-coming year and just see what happens.

You can start right now by refusing to accept the unacceptable.